The Dome, Sydney Showgrounds, November 2
There’s any number of ways to approach the question “why did this Chemical Brothers show work so well?”, from structural to chemicals, from sonics to visual. And they would all be appropriate. But still not quite enough to explain the depth of the pleasures.
Screens offered not just the usual spirograph-gone-mad swirls and shapes but real and computer-generated bodies in motion, and sometimes in provocative, art-as-statement positions; masks flitting between laughter and disturbing, faces more suggested than shown; and exhortations and psychedelic rearrangements.
Everywhere, lights pulsed and strobed, strafed and diffused, never the main player but always a reinforcement of the point being made somewhere, while the extravagantly high ceiling of the Dome first was picked out as a night sky on which to project and then as a reflective surface from which to draw more fuel of imagination.
There was the way the first 45 minutes of the show felt like an unrelenting series of surges that pushed you firmly – but never aggressively – into more movement, more rising to meet the flow, more input-feedback-input loop between the shapes behind the banks of equipment on stage (Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands never spoke, could barely be seen) and the mass of limbs and phones and bobbing heads.
Even with the irresistible Soul Train disco of Got To Keep On, never was that more simple and yet more effective than the almost brutalist Hey Boy, Hey Girl where the rise is as natural as one foot put down before the next, where the drops arrive just where you know they will, where the familiarity is bone deep, and yet it works. Over and over again.
How about the way the intensity dropped towards the end of the hour, surprising, but in the end smart as a pressure valve release, because when the rebuild came, slowly – well, as slowly as live Chemical Brothers go, which isn’t that much in truth – it was to set up a 15 minutes of hold hold hold.
That is, a sustained catch without release that seemed like foreplay balanced exquisitely on the edge of too much for too long, until, instead of a big drop, it resolved into a melodic sweep that worked as warmth rather than kick.
Out of that rose the bottom-heavy message “don’t hold back” as Galvanise posed a query and Block Rockin Beats settled the question with a kind of Public Enemy unleashed at a rave-style rush coursing through the room.
If the encore seemed mostly set on sending us out the door on a mellow high of Got Glint? and Catch Me I’m Falling, the final rush and thrust of The Private Psychedelic Reel, in a clattering drum loop and a manic vocal/synth punctuation, to the backdrop of stained glass religious images, said emphatically, we’re done, you’re done. This is how it ends.
Chemical Brothers play Hisense Arena, Melbourne, November 5.
A version of this review originally ran in the Sydney Morning Herald